MADISON, Wis. -- One explanation could be that Penn State's players were emotionally spent from the Jerry Sandusky scandal and it finally caught up to them Saturday.
Here's another explanation: Wisconsin is just that good.
The answer probably lies somewhere in between.
Scandal or no scandal, emotionally drained or emotionally hyped, it was always going to be an incredibly difficult challenge for this Nittany Lion team to beat or even stay close to this Badger team.
Throw in four turnovers, and it's virtually impossible.
"Mistakes killed us," PSU quarterback Matt McGloin said. "We can't make mistakes like that against a team like Wisconsin."
The Badgers battered the Lions, 45-7, at Camp Randall Stadium to claim the Leaders Division title and a berth in next week's Big Ten championship game against Michigan State. Penn State had a chance to earn that berth but instead suffered its worst loss since a 45-6 thumping at Ohio State in 2000.
"Obviously we didn't play a very good football game today," said PSU interim coach Tom Bradley, whose team scored first but trailed 28-7 at the half.
It would have taken a sharp all-around game for the No. 20 Lions (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) to beat the No. 15 Badgers, who were favored by more than two touchdowns, and PSU was anything but sharp. The four turnovers led to 24 points for a Wisconsin offense that doesn't need much help as it came in averaging 52 per game at home.
The Badgers (10-2, 6-2) have the best quarterback (Russell Wilson), best running back (Montee Ball) and best offense in the Big Ten. Penn State's offense has been a major question mark all season, and while its defense has played well, it hadn't faced anywhere near the kind of challenge presented by the Badgers.
"They had us on our heels a lot, and they were taking it to us the whole game," Penn State safety Nick Sukay said.
Ball had 156 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 25 carries for the Badgers, while Wilson was 19-of-29 for 186 yards and two TDs.
"They were running it effectively, and we just couldn't stop it for some reason," PSU linebacker Nate Stupar said.
Fatigue must have had something to do with it. Penn State's defense was on the field a ton as Wisconsin dominated the time of possession, 38:17 to 21:43.
The Lions got off to a strong start as their defense stopped Wisconsin on its opening possession. Penn State then took a 7-0 lead as it cashed in on a defensive mistake by the Badgers.
McGloin connected with a wide-open Curtis Drake on a 44-yard TD strike with 8:44 left in the first quarter. Badger safety Aaron Henry bit inside as Drake ran a post pattern, and there was no one within 15 yards of the receiver when he caught the pass.
That was pretty much the only highlight of the day for the Lions, who watched Wisconsin come right back with a score to start a run of 45 unanswered points.
Wilson found Jared Abbrederis for a 4-yard TD to tie it up. On Penn State's first play of the next drive, McGloin underthrew Derek Moye on a sideline route, and Shelton Johnson picked it off at midfield.
"I just didn't get the ball up high enough," said McGloin, who finished 9-of-17 for 97 yards.
Ball put the Badgers on top to stay with a 1-yard TD on the first play of the second quarter. They made it 21-7 with 2:09 left in the half when Ball scored from 2 yards out.
Penn State was still in good position at that point, getting the ball back to try and score late in the half and knowing it also would get the first possession of the second half. Then disaster struck.
Michael Zordich fumbled Wisconsin's short kickoff, and the Badgers recovered at the PSU 31.
"The Zordich fumble probably sealed our fate," Bradley said.
Wisconsin capitalized thanks to a nifty shovel pass from Wilson to Ball that picked up 15 yards to the 4. Wilson connected with Nick Toon on the next play for a 28-7 halftime lead.
Things went from bad to worse on the third play of the second half when Silas Redd ran into one of his own offensive linemen, Johnnie Troutman, and fumbled. Wisconsin recovered at the PSU 46 and needed only three plays to score, with Ball going 9 yards to make it 35-7.
Ball scored again, from 18 yards out late in the third quarter, and Philip Welch kicked a 44-yard field goal in the fourth to finish off the rout.
The Penn State players have been through so much the past three weeks in the wake of the scandal, but Sukay said Saturday's performance "had nothing to do with emotions."
"They just came out and played harder than us the whole game," he added.
Penn State 7, Wisconsin 0: A huge running into the kicker penalty on Wisconsin kept a PSU drive alive, then another big mistake by the Badgers let the Lions score a touchdown. On fourth-and-4 from their own 40, James White ran into punter Anthony Fera to give the Lions a first down. Four plays later, Matt McGloin found a wide-open Curtis Drake for a 44-yard TD pass with 8:44 left in the quarter. Wisconsin safety Aaron Henry bit inside, allowing Drake to run an uncontested post pattern. No one was within 15 yards of Drake, who looked like he was fielding a punt he was so wide open as he waited for the pass from McGloin to reach him.
Penn State 7, Wisconsin 7: The Badgers made it look easy on the ground and through the air in coming right back to tie it up. Russell Wilson was 4-for-4 for 47 yards on the drive, including a 21-yard TD strike to Jared Abbrederis with 3:32 to go in the quarter. Montee Ball also had success, carrying five times for 31 yards, including a 13-yard gain.
Wisconsin 14, Penn State 7: McGloin threw an interception on PSU's first play after the Badger TD, with Shelton Johnson picking it off at midfield. James White broke loose for 13 yards on the second play, then Wilson hit back-to-back 12-yard gains to Abbrederis to get to the 11. Ball gained 10 yards in three carries to set up first-and-goal at the 1, then he scored on the first play of the quarter with 14:57 left in the half.
Wisconsin 21, Penn State 7: Wilson did it all in giving the Badgers a 14-point lead, moving the chains with his arm and his legs. He completed three straight passes to help move the Badgers from the 17 to the 44, then broke free for 20 yards on a keeper to the PSU 36. A horse collar penalty on Gerald Hodges moved Wisconsin to the 19, then after a false start penalty, Wilson broke away from a tackle attempt by Jack Crawford for 19 yards to the 5. Ball scored two plays later from 2 yards out with 2:09 left in the half.
Wisconsin 28, Penn State 7: Michael Zordich fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving the Badgers the ball at the Lions' 31. Wisconsin got one first down, then a shovel pass from Wilson to Ball gained 15 yards to the 4. Wilson hit Nick Toon on the next play for a 4-yard strike with 37 seconds left in the half.
Wisconsin 35, Penn State 7: Silas Redd fumbled on PSU's third play of the half after running into his own offensive lineman, Johnnie Troutman. Wisconsin recovered at the 46 and needed only three plays to reach the end zone. Wilson hit Jeff Duckworth for 15 yards and Abbrederis for 21 yards to the 9. Ball scored on the next play from 9 yards with 12:52 to go in the quarter.
Wisconsin 42, Penn State 7: Ball scored his fourth TD, scampering 28 yards with 4:09 left in the quarter. Ball had gone for 11 and 16 yards on the previous two plays, getting a lot of push from his offensive line against a worn-out Lion defense.
Wisconsin 45, Penn state 7: Drew Astorino fumbled a punt for PSU. Wisconsin recovered at the Lion 44, and Philip Welch booted a 44-yard field goal with 10:47 remaining.